Know Ohio: James Garfield

This Monday marks President’s Day, a federal holiday to honor our country’s great presidents of the past. And as you may know, Ohio claims eight presidents, more than any other state – a fact that Virginia likes to dispute…but don’t listen to Virginia! Up next Know Ohio correspondent Mary Fecteau tells us about one of these great Ohioans, whose term as president was tragically cut short.

When it comes to presidents, Ohio has a lot of ‘em, but most of them don’t rise to the level of, like, a Lincoln or a Roosevelt. Ohio presidents, like Warren G. Harding, Ulysses S. Grant, and William Howard Taft, were plagued by scandals – or, in the case a Taft, a possibly true rumor of getting stuck in a bathtub.

But James Garfield is definitely one Ohio president to be proud of. Born in this log cabin in Cuyahoga County, he lost his father at age two and his family was left in poverty. From these very humble beginnings, he somehow managed to put himself through school – and was a gifted student, especially in languages. He became a professor, then a lawyer, and then entered politics. And he even proved himself on the battlefield, winning key victories as Union general in the Civil War.

After the war, he served as a leading member of congress for 18 years, where he fought corruption and was ahead of his time on many issues, including civil rights for African Americans. When he was elected president in 1880, he was destined for greatness. But just over 100 days later, he was gunned down by a mentally ill speechwriter, who was unhappy that Garfield didn’t appoint him to a political position.

President Garfield hung on for 80 days after he was shot – and even conducted presidential business from his bed. He eventually died just 200 days into his presidency. Sadly, many experts agree that Garfield would likely have survived if his doctors at the time had the medical knowledge we have today. But, out of his assassination came two key inventions: an early version of the metal detector was designed by famous inventor Alexander Gram Bell to locate the bullet in Garfield; and a precursor to the air conditioner was built by Navy engineers to keep Garfield comfortable in the hot Washington summer.

After he died, President Garfield was returned to Cleveland and laid to rest in the beautiful Garfield Monument in Lake View Cemetery -- where you can still go to pay your respects to the man who surely would have been Ohio’s greatest president.   

Instructional Links

Video: PBS LearningMedia, 60 Second Presidents, James A. Garfield

Magazine Article: Cobblestone, James A. Garfield, March, 2015,ip,custuid&custid=infohio

May Need Password

Website: James A. Garfield National Historic Site Ohio

Images & Primary Sources: National Museum of American History, Life and Death in the White House

Website Article: Ducksters, Biography, President James A. Garfield

Website Article: Explain That Stuff, Metal Detectors

Support Provided By

More Wcpn Schedule
More Wclv Schedule
90.3 WCPN
WCLV Classical 104.9
NPR Hourly Newscast
The Latest News and Headlines from NPR
This text will be replaced with a player.
This text will be replaced with a player.
This text will be replaced with a player.